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Climate Change Gets Its Day In Court, Oil Companies To Blame, Says Bay Area Cities

mariordo59 / Flickr

mariordo59 / Flickr

The nation's first court hearing on the science of climate change will be held Wednesday in San Francisco.

It’s the result of state lawsuits from the cities of San Francisco and Oakland, who argue that oil producers know they're responsible for rising ocean levels — as much as 10 feet by 2100.

They also claim that, instead of doing something about it, the companies have tried to conjure up doubt around climate change science.

“It’s time to pay the piper and for the defendants to be held accountable for their conduct,” said San Francisco’s City Attorney Dennis Herrera.

For a city like San Francisco, a peninsula exposed to water on three sides, a rising ocean means hundreds of millions of dollars will be needed to reduce the effects of saltwater intrusion.

“This was something that was caused directly by the defendants and something that we’re going to be suffering harm from for the foreseeable future,” Herrera added.

A federal judge in San Francisco has asked coal, gas and oil producers and the plaintiffs to answereight questions on climate science — such as what sources of heat cause incremental rise in temperature, or what causes ice ages.

“It's time for climate science to have its day in court,” Herrera said. “We'll see whether ‘Big Oil’ acknowledges the scientific consensus and its role in causing climate change or doubles down, once again, on deception.”

Both sides of the lawsuit will have an hour to talk about the history of climate change and then a second hour each to talk about current climate science.

On Tuesday, major oil companies asked the judge to dismiss the complaints. The reason? It’ll cost billions to mitigate sea level rise.

“One thing Chevron will not be doing is engaging in a debate on climate change science, it’s going to provide a neutral assessment of the science,” said Avi Garbow with Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher, the firm representing Chevron.

Companies like Chevron aren’t denying that climate change exists. They just don’t think they should be singled out.

“Chevron is going to anchor its presentation on the most recent comprehensive scientific assessment,” said Joshua Lipshutz with the firm representing Chevron. “Climate change is a global issue that requires global coordination. It cannot be solved by a lawsuit against a few handpicked companies.”

The motion is expected to be heard at a hearing in April. At least six other counties and cities have filed similar suits.

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